by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson
The article begins:
When I first learned about Kwanzaa in the 1980s, I questioned the need to create an observance for African Americans. It felt too contrived: all those symbols and paraphernalia, all that ritual. Even the Swahili names for the seven days of the holiday rang false: Swahili is an East African language, and the majority of African Americans have origins in West Africa.
Still, the holiday caught on; Kwanzaa cards and wrapping paper lie on the shelves next to supplies for Hanukkah and Christmas. There is a Kwanzaa postage stamp, and each year, President Bush issues a Kwanzaa message. I’ve grown to appreciate Kwanzaa because I’ve seen how it unites disparate, even hostile, segments of the African American community.
These days, though, I fear for the future of Kwanzaa. The latest figures, from a 2004 study by the National Retail Foundation, say that just 13 percent of African Americans observe the holiday. When I go to Kwanzaa ceremonies, the audience is mostly folks in their 40s and older. I don’t see the younger people, the ones who need to embrace Kwanzaa and keep it vibrant.
When they look at Kwanzaa, do they see a relic from the ’60s?
(For those of you not familiar with the specifics of Kwanzaa, please go and read the article. Before we continue, I need everyone to understand that Kwanzaa is NOT a substitute for Christmas.)
Kwanzaa is a strange holiday and it is still seen as not quite legitimate. After all, it is a cultural holiday in a season of religious based holidays. In some ways, Kwanzaa is kind of a relic from the 60s. That was back when African-Americans were struggling to form a national identity and show solidarity and that led to some of the pan-African celebrations and customs the community has embraced.
Now, many African-Americans are comfortable with their identity and have focused more on their individual lives. Kwanzaa is more of an after thought.
I was raised with Kwanzaa when I was younger. Every year, Mom broke out the kente cloth table mats, the ear of corn, the wooden chalice thing she bought from the black expo, our wooden carved kinara and the red, black, and green candles. We celebrated Kwanzaa every year for about five years.
As my sister and I entered adolescence our enthusiasm for the holiday waned. After a while, we stopped formally celebrating Kwanzaa.
(Though, I must mention that we were subject to random pop quizzes. “Spell kujichagulia and tell me what it stands for!”)
As an adult, I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa. (I also have yet to find enough Christmas spirit to decorate my studio.)
That will change in a few years though, when I have children.